What is the Achievement Ideology?

Proponents of achievement ideology believe that education and hard work are the most import factors in being successful.
Proponents of achievement ideology believe that education and hard work are the most import factors in being successful.

The achievement ideology is a perceived notion or belief that success is attained through hard work and education. The level of success achieved is based on the societal definition of success rather than an individual’s definition and understanding of success. An individual could be successful in the workplace and have a wonderful career, support a family, and be praised for his or her hard work. This then would be the encapsulation of the achievement ideology.

The achievement ideology also expresses the idea that external factors do not have as much influence on the level of success as hard work and education. In this case, gender, race, ethnicity, race, social networks, location and economic background are secondary and almost irrelevant in the pursuit of success.

Today’s Understanding of Achievement Ideology

The achievement ideology defines success based on an individual’s hard work and level of education. The higher the level of education, the more successful the person becomes. Sandra L. Barnes, in 2002, argued that the level of success achieved is best attained when a person has an achievement-oriented attitude and the actual ability to achieve certain goals.

The achievement ideology is interpreted differently by different groups of people but all agree that hard work and education are the main catalysts for success. For example, a group of African American respondents believed that race has a major influence on how successful one becomes. Sandra Barnes established in her study that the achievement ideology is well espoused by white males in higher class neighborhoods. Conversely, Barnes found that whites are less likely to ascribe success to race or having a well-established social network.

The cross-cutting belief that success is attained through education and hard work proves that the achievement ideology is very much active. This is despite the perceived differences of gender, race, ethnicity and social networks which are secondary to hard work and education. In discovering the differences of opinion for the achievement ideology, Donna Y. Ford came up with four theories related to the understanding of what drives success.

Theories of Achievement Ideology

Social Learning Theory

The social learning theory explains that individuals are socialized at an early age to hold beliefs and values that resonate with the familiar social situation they are brought up in. If a student is brought up in a social environment of underachievement and often see other people not succeed, they are more likely to internalize the values of underachievement. This will then mean that they see themselves as less likely to succeed.

Need Achievement

Social scientists believe that the need achievement theory is a result of an individual’s motivation for success and their ability to avoid failure. It is also explained by the level of expectation that a person has of success and how well they think of themselves able to succeed.

Test Anxiety

A student who fears failure and is preoccupied with the pressures of success will most likely not succeed. The test anxiety theory elaborates that fear and anxiety have a detrimental effect on performance and will stifle success.

Attribution Theory

Attribution theory explains that students can only fail to succeed due to lack of effort on their part or lack of motivation if they fully believe in the achievement ideology. A student’s belief in their ability is crucial to their success.


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